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Rochester, Minn. Muni Advocates Rely On Anecdotes, Assumptions

May 17, 2017

As this blog reported last month, for two years the Rochester, Minn. City Council has delayed making a decision about a municipal broadband network. According to a report this month in the Rochester Post Bulletin, the city still is still considering the issue. The question is whether there really is a market for a city-run system, the newspaper says.

Like government-owned broadband supporters across the nation, advocates for a city-run system in Rochester largely rely on anecdotes and assumptions to make their case.

For example, City Council Member Michael Wojcik acknowledged that he’s not sure how existing competition would affect the city system’s ability to break even. Wojcik said, “The only thing I’m certain of is that the status quo is unacceptable and failing Rochester.” Wojcik also told the Post Bulletin he also assumes the “long-term savings to consumers” would “outweigh” the “tax implications.”

The Post Bulletin also spoke with one resident, Joy Deborah Robison, a freelance designer who works from home. Robison said her residential service doesn’t offer the speeds she needs. When asked whether she had checked out services for businesses, which can offer speeds up to 10 gigabits per second, Robison acknowledged she had not. According to the Post Bulletin, only three other residents joined Robison at a recent city council meeting to advocate for a city-owned network.

The City Council could soon decide whether to launch a market study regarding municipal broadband. That study, which would cost an estimated $47,000, would “investigate whether a city-owned Internet service could be sustained in the current market and what operating options exist.”

An earlier Rochester study of municipal broadband estimated a system would ultimately cost taxpayers $67 million.

Rochester City Council President Randy Staver has noted there are 27 providers that serve various parts of the city. And, according to the Post Bulletin, “97 percent of Rochester residents have access to three or more wired providers and four or more wireless providers.”

Taxpayer advocates say Rochester should abandon this bad idea. In a recent column in the Post Bulletin, Margaret Mire from Americans for Tax Reform, explained, “While intentions for government-owned broadband networks may be good, the city council would be wise to scrap this project. There are countless examples of such networks turning quickly into money pits, leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars with only a pointless and often poorly functioning network to show for it.”